Use of interactive elements within open access public areas

The ability to touch and play with interactive elements in arts and cultural spaces is key to the learning experience.

We define interactive elements as any resource or activity that invite touch and manipulation as part of the cultural learning experience. This could involve digital technology (e.g. touch screens), physical and mechanical play (e.g. building blocks, dressing up, trails), museum object handling (e.g. specimens, sculptures, art pieces, décor), creative activities (e.g. making art and craft) and sensory aids (e.g. phonic/audio devices, large print books/tactile panels, braille labels, smell stations). These are likely to be in open access public areas.

The interactive elements of galleries and learning spaces and attendant risk of transmission need to be thoroughly risk assessed and control measures put in place to create a Covid Secure environment.

Ask yourself:

  • Will this area of the building or space be open initially?
  • What is the interactive made of, and what risk factor does that carry?
  • How many opportunities are there for touch, and how can risk be mitigated?
  • How might any control measures impact on accessibility for audiences with additional needs; and what reasonable adjustments can be made?
  • Can you replace sections of the interactive to make them more secure through use of different materials, instructions, covers or sanitiser?
  • Are you working with venue teams around cleaning rotas?
  • If removal is the safest option, what are the timescales for re-introduction and where are these stated?
  • Can you safely remove interactive elements from displays and galleries such as sketch pads, drawing stations, handling objects and any dressing-up garments and props?
  • With interactive areas which cannot be removed, can these be covered, and signs placed explaining why?
  • Can you implement a stricter cleaning programme for high-touch areas and ensure your audiences are aware of this?

The following table illustrates popular interactives and example control measures to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission:

Interactive typeConsiderations/Control Measures
Sensory aids, i.e. anything that might require on- or near-facial contact (e.g. phonic or binocular devices)Due to the potential of direct contact with the face, eyes, nose, etc. these devices can be high risk.

For audio guide technologies, are you able to sanitise effectively between users? Can equipment be single use? What are the waste or environmental impacts?

Will this impact on equality and access needs?

Are there lower risk alternatives to provide the same information? E.g. speakers and automated triggers, additional interpretation, QR codes that can trigger the experience on a personal device?

Can you remove or prevent access to fixed sensory interactives?
Large print guides, tactile drawings and maps, etc.Can they be monitored and cleaned between uses? Whose role will this be? Will this impact on staffing?

Is single use possible? What is the environmental impact of this?

Will this impact on equality and access needs?

Are there possible alternatives? E.g. making available online (large print guides) or small, socially distanced tours for audiences with additional needs?
Digital touchscreensCould the digital content be left on a loop?

Are there alternative ways for visitors to engage, e.g. through the use of a stylus? (Could you lend styluses to be sanitised for re-use or give them away?)

Are there alternative triggers such as floor or foot, RFID, gesture recognition technologies, voice control. etc.? (Touching screens may still be the default, familiar response.)

Would the provision of hand sanitiser and additional cleaning with associated signage minimise the risk?

Are there alternatives such as traditional interpretation or explainers?
Touch objects and physical interactivesWhat is the object made of and can it be sanitised? What could be used to prevent any damage to the object? Is there a conservator you can seek advice from?

Would the provision of hand sanitiser and additional cleaning with associated signage minimise the risk?

Would frequent touching from hands with sanitiser damage the object?

If it is not possible to touch the object, is it possible to temporarily remove or prevent access, or would signage suffice?

For handling collections or objects, is it possible to clean between usage or rotate collections to enable quarantine?
Art/craft activitiesIs it possible to sanitise equipment between usage?

Would single use equipment be possible or sustainable?

You may be able to secure funding to provide activity packs for children to use onsite or at home afterwards.

Also see this summary of approaches to interactives during Covid-19 put together by colleagues at the Natural History Museum and Science Museum.

If an activity cannot be made Covid Secure, there needs to be a clear strategic direction around its temporary removal, including procedures, risk level and a plan with timelines that defines the conditions under which these activities (or similar) will be returned. Developmentally, this may be a good point at which to work with audiences to refresh older interactives or think about enhancing the offer.

Case studies

The Wonderlab at the Science Museum is open. Visitors must pre-book a ticket to enter the Museum, and they are then limiting the number of people who can enterWonderlabat any one time. Visitors with a Wonderlab Annual Pass can book a free timeslot online in advance by logging into their account.  

The Rijksmuseum are using their multimedia tours, which will be disinfected between each use.      

The Cincinnati Museum Center has put their digital interactives on a downloadable app.  

Very high-touch play environments, such as Children’s Museums in the USA, currently remain closed.